photography and multimedia journalism association

Mingling Cultures

by Rashah McChesney and Pawel Wyszomirski

May, 2013. A travelling group of Drepung Loseling Tibetan Buddhist monks spent aweek in New Orleans in advance of the Dalai Lama's first visit to the city. The monks - who trace the origins of their monastic tradition to 13th century Tibet - spent most of their time working on an ornate sand mandala to a steady stream of visitors interested in Tibetan culture. After several days of work, and a blessing from the Dalai Lama, the group destroyed the creation, symbolizing the Tibetan belief that life is transitory. While many of the travelling monks were unable to communicate in English beyond the simple words needed to sell cultural items in their marketplace or thank a crowd for coming, senior monks and a spokesperson for the group talked extensively about the group?s mission of wisdom and compassion.The monks led a relatively austere lifestyle while in the city, depending primarily on donations of food and shelter and packing few belongings for the trip. Still, moments of the combining cultures could be seen in frequent trips to Starbucks, shared video and cell phone photos and gathering around a television to watch the San Antonio Spurs play a game after a long day of work.